This is part one of a two-part series where Mike LaMonica talks about his daughter JJ, the Hero Fund that carries her name, and why this weekend is so special to him.It was midnight on a Friday in November 2009 when Mike LaMonica heard a knock on his front door. He opened it to see his family’s pediatrician.
“He’d gotten the blood test results back and he pretty much knew right away what it was,” Mike said. “I remember saying, ‘What do you mean, we have to take her to the hospital right now?’”
Learn why most children with cancer have to start treatment right away >
Mike and Juliana before she was diagnosed with childhood cancer.
Years later, looking back, it’s still hard for him to wrap his mind around. “I still feel that way sometimes — you know, you get so busy in your day to day life and once in a while you stop and look back and think, did that really happen?”
They would later learn that Juliana, or JJ, had a rare subtype of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) called monosomy 7. Her cancer was difficult to treat right from the start.
“We found out pretty early on that she needed a bone marrow transplant. It was pretty much her only option,” Mike said. So he picked up and moved his whole family — his wife and two sons, one 4 years old and the other a newborn — from upstate New York to Boston, where Juliana entered the transplant program at Boston Children’s Hospital.
Juliana loved her brothers, Andrew and baby David.
“We were like roommates,” Mike said of his time with Juliana in the hospital.
“Not to say that she didn’t have tough days,” he continued. “Obviously she did, but she was able to handle a lot of it relatively OK.”
Juliana’s older brother, Andrew, turned out to be a perfect match for her bone marrow transplant. So on May 10, 2010, two of the LaMonica children went into surgery, their parents praying Andrew’s healthy cells would be enough to prevent Juliana’s cancer from coming back again.
It wasn’t. Just one month after transplant, Juliana relapsed. The doctors told Mike and his wife there was nothing more they could do.
JJ and Andrew at the beach in 2009.
Three weeks later, on July 5, 2010, Juliana passed away, just four days after turning 3.Today, Mike still has hope. But it’s a different kind of hope.
Hope that the world is still good. Hope that one day, no child will have to suffer like Juliana did. Hope that other families won’t have to live with the pain of losing a child.
Hope that still comes from Juliana.
YOU can give hope to all children and families affected by childhood cancer. Get involved today.
Read more kids’ cancer stories:
- ‘Hope for Lilli’ Lives on at Northwest String Summit Music Festival
- Childhood Cancer Life: My Day With Aubrey [PHOTO ESSAY]
- New Video: Chase’s Childhood Cancer Story [VIDEO]